The Victorian Government is continuing its work to prevent and respond to risks of child sexual abuse by strengthening recordkeeping practices within institutions that care for, or provide services to, children. Information sharing between key agencies and institutions with responsibility for children’s wellbeing and safety, and between relevant professions, is vital to identifying, preventing and responding to child abuse.
Improving information sharing about teachers
The Royal Commission recommended the improvement of information sharing practices between regulatory authorities to promote the safety and wellbeing of children. On 24 March 2021, changes to the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 came into effect to significantly strengthen the powers of the Victorian Institute of Teaching (VIT) to request information from, and share information with, relevant authorities about registered teachers. To carry out its regulatory function, the VIT can now request information from, and share information with a wide range of entities, including:
- Australian and state and territory governments
- public authorities
- municipal councils
- former or current employers of a registered teacher.
Improving information sharing across sectors
The Child Information Sharing Scheme
The Child Information Sharing Scheme (CISS) enables proactive information sharing between prescribed organisations and services and requires organisations to respond to information requests.
Phase one of the CISS commenced in 2018 and allows frontline services, such as Child Protection, integrated family services and Victoria Police, to share information with each other, with the aim of promoting children’s wellbeing and safety.
Phase two of the CISS commenced in April 2021 and broadened the range of organisations that can share information to include universal health, education and justice services, such as schools, public hospitals and courts. This expansion applied to an estimated 7,500 organisations, including approximately 370,000 workers. The inclusion of universal services in the scheme should increase collaboration and integration between services and improve both the early identification of risk for children and their families, and the delivery of timely support.
The Victorian Government is committed to monitoring and evaluating the outcomes and effectiveness of the CISS through 2021-2024 to ensure the scheme is working as intended. Further workforces may be included in the CISS in the future.
As of 30 September 2021, 12,102 authorised professionals have completed training on Victoria’s information sharing reforms, including the CISS, either face-to-face or online. A government enquiry line and inbox has also responded to 4,543 queries on Victoria’s information sharing reforms.
Information sharing under the CISS will also be facilitated by Child Link. Child Link is a digital tool that combines information from existing source systems to create a single source of information about every child in Victoria, accessible to authorised professionals. Child Link was launched in December 2021 and legally authorised professionals, including maternal and child health nurses, school principals, key school staff and child protection practitioners, will be progressively trained and onboarded throughout 2022. Child Link is designed to ensure that children’s privacy and safety is protected, while also providing professionals with the information they need to keep children safe and well.
Child Link will aim to assist professionals to:
- make more informed decisions about the wellbeing, safety and support needs of children in their service
- better identify risks and vulnerabilities and provide the necessary support to prevent any escalation of harm
- provide support earlier by linking information across services
- promote cross-service collaboration to facilitate more holistic support around a child, and
- facilitate smoother transitions between early childhood and education services by responding to gaps in participation.
Nationalisation of child information sharing
In June 2021, the Victorian Department of Education and Training co-hosted a National Information Sharing Workshop with the Commonwealth National Office for Child Safety to continue ongoing discussions regarding a national child information sharing scheme. Approximately 60 senior government officials from over 20 government agencies took part in the workshop and discussed the purpose and scope of a national scheme.
Improved recordkeeping within schools
Government schools in Victoria are already required to meet the minimum record retention requirements recommended by the Royal Commission, including records relating to student health, safety and wellbeing, under existing obligations set out in the Public Records Act 1973. In order to identify a practical approach to align non-government schools’ record retention requirements with those of government schools, the Victorian Government convened a School Records Working Group.
The Working Group agreed that minimum record retention requirements for child safety and wellbeing records, as set out in relevant Record Retention and Disposal Authorities released by the Public Record Office Victoria, should be implemented in all Victorian schools. These requirements will be included in the directions given to all schools in accordance with the implementation of the new Child Safe Standards in Victorian schools from 1 July 2022.
Worker and Carer Exclusion Scheme
The Victorian Government is reforming how it regulates social services and will establish a single, streamlined regulatory framework to be administered by a new Social Services Regulator (Regulator). As part of the reforms, a new Worker and Carer Exclusion Scheme will replace the Victorian Carer Register and will be administered by the Regulator.
The Regulator will be empowered to use a suite of compliance tools to assess allegations of harm, abuse and neglect by carers to identify and exclude carers whose past actions show they pose an unjustifiable risk to children in care. Importantly, the Regulator will work collaboratively with other regulators to ensure risks posed by these carers are managed across different sectors and workforces.
Implementation of the reforms will commence in 2023.
All existing screening requirements for carers, such as Working with Children Checks and criminal records checks, will remain. This reform will also enable information sharing arrangements with previously implemented and related schemes, including the Reportable Conduct Scheme, to streamline reporting and administrative processes.